How a college search ended up in a tattoo shop

MPR News reporter Tim Nelson gets a tattoo.
Leviticus Tattoo artist Collin Rigsby helps MPR News reporter Tim Nelson make good on a promise to his college-bound daughter. Rigsby inks a tattoo of the three crowns logo of Gustavus Adolphus College on Nelson's upper left arm on Saturday.
Erika Nelson

Mark you well the following cautionary parenting tale.

My eldest child was in the midst of her college search and had made several visits to my alma mater during her high school career. Her indifference was palpable.

I graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College nearly 30 years ago. And like tens of thousands of Minnesotans, I harbor fond feelings for Gustavus and I even thought it might be a reasonable choice for my daughter as she toured schools from Boston to San Francisco.

Oh, but that's not all.

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Foolishly, I told her at one point that if she decided to follow in my undergraduate footsteps, I would get a tattoo of the school's three crowns logo.

It should be noted that I virulently oppose tattoos, and never thought while the sun still rose in the sky that either my daughter would a) start school in St. Peter this fall or b) remember my promise.

May 1 was National College Decision Day for high school students to make their final decision on where to attend school this coming fall.

And, lo, both have come to pass.

A promise to keep

My daughter reminded me regularly of my promise, from the moment she entered the credit card number on the Gustavus website to put down her deposit last month. Then she rebuffed repeated offers of straight cash payouts to settle the matter discreetly and amicably, as is all the fashion these days, I guess.

"How's that tattoo going, Dad?" she asked, on a nearly daily basis.

Which left me a dilemma: surrender what paltry integrity I had left as a parent, or get a *#&^$@! tattoo.

I'm more than 50 years old. I've been sober and smoke-free for decades, even gluten-free now and following my doctor's advice to take a low-dose aspirin every day. I had little more idea where to get a tattoo than score some illicit Percocet.

Facebook recommendations amusing and instructive

I resorted in desperation to Facebook.

Where, I asked my friends, could I get a tattoo without exposing myself to dread disease or financial hardship?

"Prison," replied one of my one-time Gustavus classmates.

"Get it on your forehead."

A political operative I once covered at the Pioneer Press weighed in with vengeful glee: "This is a fantastic, fantastic situation. I hope it's required to be a neck tattoo."

Another Gustavus classmate passed along a photo of Donald Trump ally Roger Stone's between-the-shoulder-blades Nixon tat.

A fellow Gustie later admired how this would be fine fodder for the alumni magazine.

"So not only will you get a tattoo you don't want," another Facebook friend wrote, "you'll be famous for it!"

Others offered alternatives. A tiny butt-cheek version. A white ink version. An ultraviolet ink version. A fake drawn with a marker, serial temporary tattoos, or a henna version.

A secret tribe revealed

Several shamed me for even countenancing the idea, and a few suggested I simply act like an adult, refuse, and send my daughter off to college with an apology if I really felt the need. A few just said, literally, this was stupid.

Then I discovered I'd unwittingly joined a secret tribe.

"I learned my lesson about making bets/deals with my kids after the great 'No-Hitter/iPhone' incident of 2015," an acquaintance wrote. Her daughter had asked for a new and expensive smartphone, and her parents, rather than saying no, simply offered to buy her one if she threw a no-hitter — a feat never before accomplished in her softball league.

"Little s--- threw a no-hitter," her mother explained.

And then this: A Gustavus classmate confided that in the mid-1980s, her own mother had offered an even more outlandish challenge. If my former classmate won a scholarship at Gustavus, her mother would circle the oak tree in the front yard of the family home in Waseca, Minn.


"This story can now be told," she remembered. "It was about 10 p.m. We assembled by the front door (yes, there were multiple witnesses to this event). Mom was there wearing a robe. She readied herself at the door, took a deep breath, dropped the robe, yelled "Oh, mighty Isis!" and dashed out into the night."

All I had to do? Bare my left arm.

Tim Nelson got a tattoo of the Gustavus Adolphus College logo.
Tim Nelson got a tattoo of the Gustavus Adolphus College logo after promising his daughter Emma that he would if she decided to become a Gustie.
MPR News

This one's for you, Emma:

C'mon, you Gusties, Fight on! Fight on! Shout out the battle cry of victory!

C'mon you Gusties, Fight 'till the end! Fight on for dear old G. A. C.!